Rabbinic Responsibility and Defending Weiss

My jaw dropped when I saw Rabbi Yoseif Bloch’s article Lonely Manna of Faith.  I couldn’t believe that he understands the efforts of  Orthodox rabbis on both sides to reign in radical elements that are seeking to undermine the Tradition as simple intolerance and political posturing.  I’m sure he does agree that there is such a concept of right belief in Judaism, it is possible to step beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in Judaism, and doing so is treated quite seriously in Jewish law.  The argument we have been making is that innovations introduced in practice by Rabbi Weiss & Co. as well as statements of belief written by several of his students represent such radical departures from normative Judaism that it impacts their credibility to speak about matters of personal status.   All the Chief Rabbinate did was acknowledging that what they have been saying and doing is problematic, a fact I didn’t see as particularly controversial.

The fact of the matter is that personal status is a much more difficult issue now than it has ever been.  Intermarriage is at an all-time high and possibly exists that for the first time since King Solomon reigned in Jerusalem it might be considered that the Jews are in their heyday, with all of the ramifications thereof.  There was rarely a comparable situation throughout a history where people are actually clamoring to be Jewish and where it would be considered to be a positive thing.  This is one of the foundations for the communal ruling in the Syrian community, which effectively ended conversion there.  This is without the incentives for people seeking to make aliyah with all of the financial benefits that come with it.  The Chief Rabbinate would be derelict in their duties if they were not taking certain precautions, and a basic precaution is that the person attesting to someone’s Judaism, with all of the spiritual and potential financial benefits that come with it, meets some basic requirements.  I don’t see how Rabbi Bloch could criticize the Chief Rabbinate for doing their due diligence.

Now I’d like to address the word game and unfair criticism of Rabbi Rocklin.  It’s true that Rabbi Farber has said that he believes in the divine nature of the Torah, but what he means by that is more consistent with Conservative/Historical Judaism than Orthodox Judaism.  He says flat out that the Torah is a folk tale and that Avraham Avinu never existed, essentially stating that he is uttering an absolute lie every time he prays the mandatory thrice-daily prayer service.   When Rabbi Asher Lopatin states that “Rabbi Farber is a big enough talmid chacham to defend his Orthodoxy from all his critics“, he’s saying that a philosophical position that is intolerable within Orthodoxy is tolerable within Open Orthodoxy, he has effectively placed Open Orthodoxy at the right wing of the Conservative movement.  Is it any wonder then that Rabbi Weiss was calling for the acknowledgement of non-Orthodox conversions?

As we come to Parshat Yitro, we have to ask ourselves a question: why did our Sages say that the Jews were in their heyday during the Sin of the Golden Calf when compared to their sorry state at the end of the 1st Temple as opposed to the Giving of the Torah featured in this parshah?  The answer to this question is the answer to Rabbi Bloch’s criticism of why we have been so focused on what Rabbi Weiss is doing as opposed directing our energy toward social issues like  that of child predators.   There’s a very simple distinction between the YCT controversy and pedophilia: most people know that kid touching is wrong.  Even most pedophiles know it themselves regardless of their actual behavior.  There’s nothing to be said about this particular issue other that we need to keep them away from our children and get them help so they can’t do more damage.

Rabbi Weiss has the power to do something much more damaging, and that is to make the forbidden permissible.  Take homosexuality for example since it is the subject of so much debate.  The Ben Ish Hai admonished his congregation over 100 years ago in Baghdad for engaging in homosexual behavior,  but not specifically because it was so much more terrible than any other violation of Jewish law.  He said the reason this transgression was so serious because even the non-Jews knew that it was wrong and the Jews looked very bad for engaging in behavior that was such a deviation from societal norms.  No one in the 1800′s could have imagined gay marriage being institutionalized and sanctioned by society.   Who’s to say in 100 years society won’t putting their stamp of approval on pederasty as well?  It wouldn’t be without precedent in history.  Now imagine either our modern congregant struggling with same-sex attraction or our fictional pedophile of the future who wants to stop but is finding it so hard.  The media tells him it’s fine, the schools says it’s natural, and he comes looking to the rabbi.  What hope of resisting his urges or repenting when the rabbi rubber-stamps society’s mores?

Rabbi Weiss’ students are unapologetically deriving their values from non-Jewish sources and superimposing them onto Jewish ones.  Besides for the aforementioned dabbling in Academic Biblical Criticism, there’s more examples of Open Orthodox rabbis trying to remake Judaism in their own image.  One YCT student has tried to push veganism based on Aristotelian ethics rather than Jewish.  Another claims feminism must inform how we decide how to approach women’s issues despite the fact that the Rav he claims acknowledges its importance also called feminism heresy.   A third argues that the spirit of inclusiveness is an overriding consideration to the halachot of a house of worship.  Who knows what wild innovations they could come up with or what behaviors they could end up sanctioning?  This is why this topic deserves so much of our attention.

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5 Responses to Rabbinic Responsibility and Defending Weiss

  1. houmouss33 says:

    Shalom Rabbi,

    As a lay person, it is difficult if not impossible for me to weigh in on the merits of the CR vs. R’ Weiss vs the RCA, etc. Regarding R’ Weiss: I have not examined the merits or demerits of the “novelties” he brings to orthodox Judaism. I live in a black hat community. It is sufficient to me for the present that my Rabbinical community leaders are uncomfortable with R’ Weiss (and to a lesser extent, the RCA), so I toe the line.

    I just want to pick up on one aspect of your exocriation of R’ Farber. After reading your blog and picking through the related articles from “The Times of Israel”, I came across the following on a Torah website from R’ Farber:

    Consider the position of the convert. The convert feels part of the covenant of Israel and is called the son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah—even though, in a literal sense, he or she is not. In many ways we are all like the convert. Abraham and Sarah are folkloristic characters; factually speaking, they are not my ancestors or anyone else’s. Going back three and half millennia, I really don’t know who my ancestors were, but even if I did know, I am not sure that this information would be more than mildly interesting. My actual forefather has had little impact on my conscious life, whatever his contribution to my DNA and current existence may be. The same cannot be said for our father Abraham, Avraham Avinu.

    R’ Farber is NOT saying Avraham Avinu is folklore or didn’t exist (at least here). He is saying that the idea that WE ARE ALL DIRECT DESCENDANTS OF AVRAHAM AVINU IS FOLKLORISTIC! There’s a big difference, wouldn’t you agree?

    While the notion that Avraham Avinu is not my father may make one feel uncomfortable; I don’t believe that it is heretecal in orthodox circles to believe there is a slim chance that Avraham Avinu contributed to one’s gene pool.

    Again, I don’t have the time to really grasp all aspects of this controversy, but from what little I’ve read (I know, it’s the internet stupid!), your conclusion regarding R’ Weiss may be off target.

    Look forward to hearing your response.

    • houmouss33 says:

      Hi, the last sentence, I meant to say R’ Farber, NOT R’ Weiss. Please amend

    • Achi,

      I understand as someone “in the bubble” you are getting a particular perspective on the situation that may lead you to believe that the situation may be overblown, especially at the rate at which some communities expel people as heretics or at least not towing the line. I assure you this is quite different. The piece that you found is actually the conclusion of a very long article. Part V is where he says flat out that he does not accept the Humash (5 Books of Moses) as historical. This is problematic on so many levels and cannot be justified within Orthodoxy:
      1. He is accepting academic scholarship as the given truth while it is the Torah he is more willing to call into question. That means he fundamentally doesn’t accept the Torah as absolute truth, only as truth as he is willing to accept it on his own terms. That’s not Torah; that’s his own academic religion.
      2. Many laws are based the fact we accept the people mentioned in the Bible as historical. I can walk into any synagogue in the world and very often I can get an aliyah when few others can, the second one. How could I walk into a shul demanding an aliyah based on the fact that I’m a descendent of Levi when it’s not true?
      3. He’s essentially calling many people among the Jews liars, or at least one of their ancestors. Tanakh (the Bible) is not the only place with Jewish genealogical records. Families all over Teman, the Cohen Tzedeks of Iraq, and Rashi are among the scores of Jews who kept meticulous family trees to prove their descendent either from Aharon HaCohen or King David. If it isn’t true than who cooked the books?
      4.One of the 13 Principles of Faith of the Rambam (Maimonides) is that the Torah is true. His statements call that into question, and his qualification how the Torah could be true even according to him doesn’t cut the mustard since I can use the same logic to say the New Testament or even Harry Potter are true. Maybe an exaggeration but I don’t think so.
      5. Both Philo and Josephus regarded Tanakh as historical. Given that these are the two earliest recorded Jewish sources it is safe to say this is the way it was always understood. From what I have learned, the first Jew to really question that was Baruch Spinoza in the 1600′s and he was excommunicated and thrown out of the ghetto for doing so. I haven’t seen the excommunication letter so I don’t know the specifics though.

      Please let me know if this is a sufficient explanation.

  2. “The rabbinate is heading in the direction where they will no longer accept any community rabbi and will instead insist on rabbinical courts certifying someone’s Jewishness, a situation that is completely unmanageable in North America,” Rabbi Farber said.

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